Finding ideas everywhere!

Systems designed to be innovative. . . change by being open to trying new and different things, by acknowledging constraints and opportunities popping up all around, and by committing to adaptive responses. They change by consciously creating space where willing people can demonstrate different approaches.
–Center for Policy Studies

A 2012 Center for Policy Studies report, From Lagging to Leading, clearly documents the future challenges facing higher education in Minnesota and in the United States. It concludes that our current system is not sustainable without disruptive change – a level of change that will require us to lead the kind of innovative systems described above.

As leaders, we are being asked to recognize what is working in the present, keep it going, carry forward what will work in the future, AND build capacity to succeed in the future through innovation and new ideas. One way leaders can become more innovative is to actively step outside of their own area of expertise and learn from the work being done in other disciplines.  Today I want to step over to the biology field and share some recent work I found that focuses on how to create the space needed for people to find new ideas.

Janet Crawford, an environmental scientist and consultant who applies neuroscience research to leadership and organizational culture, was recently interviewed in Forbes magazine.  Over three articles she provides an overview of how understanding human biology can help organizations improve.  The ideas that caught my eye were her four practical tips, based on brain research, to increase innovative thinking.

  1. Nurture the biological aspects of the brain that have been shown to relate to innovation.
    • adequate sleep
    • healthy diet
    • social connection and interaction
    • manage stress levels
  2. Develop a large pool of available inputs by exposing the brain to:
    • new and different ideas
    • new and different cultures
    • new and different disciplines
    • new and different people and environments
  3. Open the brain to recognizing new ideas as an opportunity instead of a threat by reducing social and emotional threats with a safe and inclusive work environment.
  4. Allow the brain to try out new ideas by creating forums where people can play, prototype, take risks and fail.

Leaders in higher education can use these tips from biology to enhance their own innovative thinking and to support innovation across their institutions.

What leadership ideas have you learned when you stepped outside of your own network, discipline or usual circle of reading?

Todd Thorsgaard

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